Back to previous post: Interrogation scene

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: James Gardner, off the reservation

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

June 15, 2003

The Spoonbill Generator
Posted by Teresa at 08:38 PM *

The Spoonbill Generator is a collaborative poetry site that invites passersby to add a line to one of the three currently accreting poems. While they’re in process the poems are titled “Red poem”, “Green poem”, or “Blue poem”; when one is finished it becomes “Untitled Poem”, and is added to the list of poems needing titles. Naturally, passersby are invited to supply the titles, too.

The results aren’t half bad, which is more than you can say for most poetry on the web. I liked “My Nightly Righteous Ferment”, which begins:
I think that I shall never see A piece of cake too big for me;
Though sometimes in a hazy dream
I eat a hunk of clotted cream:
This shows that we aren’t what we seem I burned my arse with kettle steam
Whilst dreaming of Ann Widdecombe;
Oh how I’d like to rub whipped cream
On her, whilst she sprays shaving foam
Into the parts that make a home …
It doesn’t end there. Credit for these lines belongs to TG, Apsley, Roland, Apsley, TG, Pongo&perdita the 67th, fester, madge, fester, and Apsley. (via Jim Macdonald)
Comments on The Spoonbill Generator:
#1 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 01:03 AM:

Much fun.

Added lines to all three.

It seems today is a poetry day. Today was the unveiling of The Buckeye, a new formalist poetry e-zine that I was asked to submit a couple poems to--one an original, the other a reprint of my verse Feghoot from the ConJose program book.

The Spoonbill Generator reminds me of "The Bane of SFWA" that was going on a Mac some ten years ago or so, I believe at the Anaheim Westercon.

#2 ::: Mahala Urra ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 10:39 AM:

Erm, hello...

I was wondering...What's happened to the Library School blog?

#3 ::: John Owen ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 11:36 AM:

Hmm, I'm still boggling at the thought of anyone dreaming of rubbing whipped cream onto Ann Widdecombe! Vanishing cream, perhaps. I'll pass that one by with a shudder, thanks.

#4 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 12:55 PM:

Very interesting. I'm thinking about submitting a line or two, but I'm very slow about that sort of things. I did suggest a title, which usually I'm very bad at, but it helps to have suggested words. I must say thought, someone, or some group of someones, on that site has a real thing for trees. They crop up continually.


#5 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 02:37 PM:

I think it works as well as it does because it makes people concentrate on making the individual line do something.

#6 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 06:01 PM:

I'll have to keep this one in mind for days when I have things to write but am blocked. The shift in mental gears caused by adding a handful of lines of poetry really helped me get moving on some proposals I needed to write.

#7 ::: Bjorn ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 02:29 AM:

Anne Widdecombe got at least one vote in a vote for the world's sexiest women in FHM magazine UK. So there are some admirers there. Or a joker or two. I shall pass too, but that image will haunt me for a while.

#8 ::: Matt Weiner ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 09:45 AM:

John and Bjorn, you should look beyond the superficial. What other MP increases our visual pleasure by featuring her new cats on her home page?


#9 ::: Tim ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:55 AM:

I always wanted to do an anthology of untitled poetry; the book would only accept poems titled "Untitled." The cover would, of course, be blank...

#10 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 12:38 PM:

Mary Kay: After all, a tree is just a weed that Made It.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 11:00 AM:

Mahala: What? Say on.

#12 ::: Kansas Sam ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 06:17 PM:

To all those who have learned about Spoonbill from this blog:

I've been doing Spoonbill almost daily for several months now, so I feel like a veteran (though others have been doing it for years, so I guess I'm a newbie.)

Evidently, this blog has given Spoonbill publicity which has brought a large number of talented newcomers to it.

Spoonbill poetry is essentially nonsense, but...there's good nonsense and bad nonsense. By being careful, your won't create bad nonsense that screws up somebody else's good nonsense (presumably, mine ;-).

Here are some (totally unoffical) tips on how to create good nonsense, drawn from my many years (er, months) of Spoonbill experience:

- Read the entire poem carefully to get a feel for where it's going, in terms of both content and form.
- Take your time. Think carefully about what you're doing--don't just blast something out.
- Follow the established form very carefully. Be careful not to confuse the form of one poem with another--which is easily one. (Failure to follow form is perhaps the most common newbie mistake.)
- Try to incorporate as many existing ideas as you can into what you contribute. (Think of this as a puzzle to be solved.) This gives the poem coherence; otherwise, it's just a bunch of disconnected (if rhyming) lines.
- Likewise, if somebody throws you a baseball, try to hit it. By hitting their ball, rather than throwing your own, the poem won't go in too many directions. (Again: coherence.)
- If you _can't_ think of anything good for a particular poem/line then pass and let somebody else do that one; maybe you'll have a good idea the next time.
- Use a rhyming dictionary, e.g. It's not cheating! You'll be amazed how many useful rhyme words you haven't thought of.
- When you have a choice of last word (to be subsequently rhymed), try to find one that has several rhymes so the next person has something to work with. (Again, consult a rhyming dictionary to see that several are available.) In other words, don't box the rhymer in. (BTW, it might be you!) An exception (very rare) is if you're throwing out hard-to-rhyme words for fun. (See "Lucinda' big sister chowed down on plutonium")
- It's good to write good lines, but it's better to write good poems. Sometimes you have to abandon a good idea because it won't fit. So just abandon it and move on.
- Strive to be a team player, not a star. Basketball metaphor: sometimes you should shoot the ball, sometimes you should pass it to someone else. You don't have to score every time. In other words, put your ego aside and do what's good for the poem. (You guessed it: coherence.) Score yourself on the total result as much as on your own contributions.
- If somebody screws up a poem in some way, try to figure out a way to get it back on track. Again, think of this as a puzzle.
- Carefully review your submission several times before actually posting it. (Be sure to select the right stanza button.)
- That said, the results are rarely, if ever, perfect, so don't expect perfection. Don't bother the Spoonmaster with corrections if you can possibly contain yourself.
- Don't try to anticipate what the next person might write; you can't.
- Consider posting to each poem just once a day. (However, I tend to post more often; I'm a hypocrite here.)
- Don't end somebody else's poem unless you have a very good reason. If you've lost interest in one, maybe you should just stop contributing to it.
- That said, feel free to end a poem which has reached its logical conclusion, run out of gas, or become totally incoherent. (When done judiciously, this is a public service.)
- It's fun to start a new poem (and I sometimes do), but maybe you should let somebody else start one. Not only is that fun for them, I find that the second or third line is as powerful (or more so) for influencing the concept and structure of a poem than the first is. (Specifically, the first line establishes meter but cannot establish stanza structure: subsequent lines do that.)
- If you start a poem, please participate in it to some extent. (We're not your lackeys!)
- Favor short, simple poems over long ones; they have a better chance of remaining coherent. Also, long ones tend to become tiresome.
- Favor rhymed poems over free verse. Rhyming seems to help poems stay coherent. Also, rhyme words are a valuable source of nonsensical inspiration.

With all that in mind, welcome, new Spoonbill'ers!

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 06:57 PM:

Glad to hear we brought you new visitors.

#14 ::: ml ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 02:39 PM:

Spoonbill: more addictive than a warblog during the Battle of Bunker Hill Assisted Living Estates! I am afraid to tell people about it,'s a Heisenberg soon as everyone rushes to look at it, it tips over. Fortunately, I suppose, it's self-righting. Once they see the incoherent stuff created by the rush, they go off again. It would be bad if this fell into the hands of fark, for instance. Very bad, for a very short time. Those who frequent Spoonbill will talk about that bad, short time for a long, long time.

That said, the least interesting poems seem to end up commenting on the Spoonbill process itself. The best ones are a joy.

#15 ::: Kansas Sam ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2003, 09:40 AM:

One important point I forgot to address previously:

Naughty stuff is OK (as long as it's not explicit), but reach for it last, not first. Whimsey is generally much more interesting (and requires more imagination...) Also, don't take an established, clean poem in a naughty direction for no good reason: that's just immature. (BTW, there are plenty of sites on the Internet for those who are still fascinated by the naughty.)

See "Hidden By Hygiene Fairies" in Spoonbill's Golden Treasury for a great use (IMHO) of naughtiness. It fits there.

Remember, all nonsense is equal, but some is more equal than others.

-Kansas Sam

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2003, 12:50 PM:

Kansas Sam, I'm fine with you posting your suggestions here, but wouldn't they be more effective at Spoonbill? This is the tail end of a comment thread on an old post, and the number of people who'll read it before coming over to the Spoonbill site has to be diminishing.

#17 ::: ml ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2003, 01:33 PM:

Interestingly, Spoonbill has no forum. I think this means that the only way contributors can contact each other is via the medium of the collaborative poems themselves; this probably prevents conspiratorial compositions to some extent. As a result, the title-word suggestions, and lines themselves, occasionally seem to be veiled remarks to other contributors.

#18 ::: Kansas Sam ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2003, 04:58 PM:

Indeed, ml. It's both a weakness and a strength of Spoonbill.

I think someone here could help, if they want to, by pointing folks to my comments from the regular space. (Bear in mind, though, that these comments are strictly my own and do not represent any form of policy from; I'm just a contributor.)

In any event, these are probably the last comments I will post here.

#19 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2003, 05:45 PM:

The Spoonbill Generator has its own thread in the General forum over at Eratosphere, which is a metrical poetry forum, where you've been getting some of your other recent participants from.

If you need a clubhouse, that would likely work better.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.